Fdd's overnight brief

September 26, 2019

In The News


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would engage in no new negotiations with the U.S. until Washington lifted its punishing economic sanctions, while signaling that Tehran was open to a new, broader deal if that condition were met. – Wall Street Journal

The Trump administration barred senior Iranian government officials from entering the United States on Wednesday, just hours after a failed attempt to renew diplomacy with President Hassan Rouhani as he attended an annual gathering of world leaders in New York. – New York Times

US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani face their last chance Wednesday for a historic meeting as European leaders raced to arrange talks aimed at defusing soaring tensions. – Agence France-Presse

An Iranian citizen has been sentenced in Minnesota to 27 months in federal prison for her role in an alleged conspiracy to illegally export restricted technology from the U.S. to Iran. – Associated Press

British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero is still being held in Iran, despite Tehran lifting a detention order on the vessel, its owner said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Washington’s policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Iran with wide-ranging sanctions has shredded the country’s oil revenues, sent its economy into recession and devalued its national currency. […]Iranian officials, business people and analysts say the country is staying on its feet by stepping up exports of non-oil goods and increasing tax revenues, but most importantly resorting to bartering, smuggling and back-room deals. – Reuters

Iran’s president has accused the United States of “merciless economic terrorism” and of engaging in “international piracy”. Hassan Rouhani told the UN General Assembly that security in the Gulf can only be guaranteed when Iran’s own security is clear. – Sky News (UK)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani repeated a message of peace amid dangerous regional frictions during this year’s United Nations General Assembly, but his rival’s top diplomat skipped the talks. – Newsweek

Against a backdrop of an ongoing campaign aimed at silencing foreign-based activists, agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry arrested the brother of prominent U.S.-based activist Masih Alinejad, she announced on Twitter. – Center for Human Rights in Iran

Iran’s president used the world’s stage on Wednesday to warn that security in the Persian Gulf could unravel with a “single blunder” and its fragile peace be guaranteed only by the region’s countries, not through U.S. intervention or Washington’s “merciless economic terrorism.” – Associated Press

Stephen Rademaker writes: Iran complains bitterly about Mr. Trump’s policy, but by violating its nuclear commitments and attacking its neighbors, it practically invites the U.S. to do more. One option is to put the full weight of international law behind its sanctions campaign—unilaterally. – Wall Street Journal

Babak Namazi and Richard Ratcliffe write: Global attention has been fixated on salvaging the nuclear deal and reducing conflict between the United States and Iran, but the world has ignored the harsh truth that Iran is brazenly using hostage-taking as a key element of its foreign policy. – New York Times

Bobby Ghosh writes: At the United Nations General Assembly in New York, European leaders used their meetings with President Hassan Rouhani to pile on pressure. […]If the loss of Western sympathy now compels a desperate regime to demand more of its eastern and northern friends, it will almost certainly meet with more disappointment. – Bloomberg

Kathy Gilsinan writes: So the U.S. and Iranian presidents found themselves in close proximity but still inhabiting fundamentally different realities concerning who is the real aggressor and what is required for peace. Around them, European powers are growing more impatient with Iran but are still unwilling to fully join the United States’ campaign against it. Iranian and American officials will likely leave New York this week with negotiations nowhere closer, but all their grievances intact. – The Atlantic


Portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad adorn a few buildings still intact after years of fighting and Russian soldiers hand out food and other supplies to residents of this Syrian town that was recently captured by the Syrian army. – Associated Press

Canada has revoked its approval of a diplomat in Montreal who is a supporter of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Shamima Begum, the Bethnal Green schoolgirl who fled to Syria at the age of 15, has reportedly claimed to be “in a really bad way” mentally and wants to return to the UK for therapy. – The Telegraph


President Reuven Rivlin of Israel tapped Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government, giving the prime minister a lifeline as he tries to maintain his hold on power while facing possible bribery and fraud charges in the coming weeks. – Wall Street Journal

Israel, one of the pioneers of drone warfare, is now on the front lines of an arms race to protect against attacks by the unmanned aircraft. A host of Israeli companies have developed defense systems they say can detect or destroy incoming drones. But obstacles remain, particularly when operating in crowded urban airspaces. – Associated Press

The Islamic Jihad terror group is seeking to set up rocket production capabilities in the heart of the West Bank, threatening to fire the projectiles at cities in central Israel, according to an Israeli television report. – Times of Israel

A 22-year-old Israeli woman was in moderate condition on Wednesday after being stabbed in a suspected terror attack. – Algemeiner

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer suggested on Wednesday that Israeli political and defense leaders are now united in opposing the terms of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. – Jewish Insider

Ilan I. Berman writes: Since taking office, the current U.S. administration’s pro-Israel tilt has yielded enormous dividends for the Jewish state, from the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem to a recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This closeness will assuredly continue to be nurtured by the next Israeli Prime Minister, whether it ends up being Netanyahu or Gantz or even a third party. […]The recent election may have been a referendum on Netanyahu, but it was not a plebiscite on his foreign policy. Israel’s next leader, whoever that might be, can be expected to continue the same general course. – Al-Hurra Digital


Iraqi President Barham Saleh met with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the Iraqi news agency reported. – Reuters

Yerevan Saeed writes: U.S. and Western governments can also help guide the region towards a stronger economy by conditioning its aid to the Kurdistan Region based on evidence of economic and political reforms. Regular meetings between Kurdish politicians and U.S. diplomats and military officials can actually contribute to paralyzing change, as such meetings are multiplied on partisan media outlets and give the false perception to regular Kurds that there is international, unconditional legitimation and support of the status quo. Regardless of the reality, people in the Kurdistan Region do not believe that internal change is possible without the assistance and support of Washington. – Washington Institute

Mike Fleet writes: In Iraq the issue of decentralization tends to kick up a flurry of activity and discussion whenever Law 21 is amended or a governor attempts to create a new region. Otherwise though, federalism only draws attention as it relates to Baghdad-Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) relations, oil revenue sharing, or both. – Middle East Institute

Arabian Peninsula

Saudi Arabia is still vulnerable to attacks like the recent strike against a pair of oil facilities, an Iranian official warned after rebuffing any negotiations with the United States. – Washington Examiner

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince received a phone call on Wednesday from the U.S. Secretary of Defense in which they discussed ongoing arrangements to send U.S. troops of a defensive nature to the kingdom, Saudi state agency (SPA) reported. – Reuters

A military response to Iran is an option once proof has been provided that it attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities earlier this month, the country’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubier said on Wednesday. – Jerusalem Post

The ongoing conflict in Yemen , which has killed tens of thousands of people and sparked a humanitarian crisis, is among the thorniest issues facing world leaders this week as they meet at the United Nations. – Associated Press

Michael Knights and Conor Hiney write: Finally, the United States needs to work with the international community to deter Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia. Recently announced U.S. troop deployments may buy Riyadh more time to improve its defenses and benefit from American training and equipment, but a continual U.S. presence is only one of many elements needed for a long-term solution. – Washington Institute

Middle East & North Africa

In late 2017, the New York Times received an urgent warning from a U.S. official. Egyptian authorities were looking to arrest Declan Walsh, the newspaper’s reporter in Cairo, according to its publisher.[…] The Trump administration had tried to keep the warning about Walsh from ever reaching the Times. Officials “intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote in an opinion column on Monday. – Washington Post

U.S. forces said on Wednesday they killed 11 suspected militants in their second air strike in a week near the southern Libyan town of Murzuq, as the U.N. envoy warned of a growing risk of armed escalation and rights abuses in the country. – Reuters

Ghazi Ben Ahmed writes: Tunisia must integrate into the global economy; it has no other viable alternative. Integration can be achieved through a double track orientation— a deeper and comprehensive partnership with the European Union[…]. Tunisia must also reinforce military and security cooperation with the United States. As a NATO ally, Tunisia requires backing from the United States in counter-terrorism operations, border security, military training, and technical assistance. – Washington Institute

Korean Peninsula

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In on Tuesday proposed that the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea be turned into an “international peace zone” after decades of an armed standoff at the border. – The Hill

Business leaders from South Korea and Japan have urged both governments to find a quick diplomatic solution for the deepening trade disputes, warning of negative economic consequences for both countries. – Financial Times

North Korea is evading U.N. sanctions to cash in on soaring domestic demand for smartphones, using low-cost hardware imports to generate significant income for the regime, according to defectors, experts and an analysis of North Korean-made phones. – Reuters


The Trump administration blacklisted several Chinese companies including units of a state giant for allegedly shipping Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions, attempting to cut off the last vestiges of Iran’s crude exports. – Wall Street Journal

China was accused of harvesting organs from prosecuted minority groups during a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting on Tuesday. – The Hill

China has launched a massive amphibious assault ship that will bring its armed forces closer to being capable of invading Taiwan. – Financial Times

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a deal to end a nearly 15-month trade war with China could happen sooner than people think and that the Chinese were making big agricultural purchases from the United States, including of beef and pork. – Reuters


Candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election pushed their messages for the last time Wednesday as campaigning for weekend polls wrapped up amid deadly violence. – Agence France-Presse

Afghanistan will soon choose its next president. Whoever emerges victor will be key to the war-ravaged nation’s search for peace, but must beat more than a dozen other candidates and possibly face a run-off if no one gets a majority in round one. – Reuters

Vinay Kaura writes: The Pentagon and the U.S foreign policy establishment will do their utmost to delay and oppose a departure from Afghanistan as there is a strong fear that whatever the terms and circumstances, the U.S. withdrawal will be viewed in the Muslim world as a victory for the Taliban, thereby boosting the morale of jihadists. […]The Taliban must begin to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace rather than continue the violence and destruction.” But if Khalilzad restarts negotiations with the Taliban, he will try to make sure that the group agrees to a ceasefire not just with the Americans, but also with the Afghan army. As it were, offering incentives to the Taliban to agree to such a big concession would be like squaring the circle. – Middle East Institute


US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Washington and Tokyo had taken a major step towards sealing a comprehensive new trade deal, after a year of negotiations between the global economic powers. – Agence France-Presse

Thailand’s army is stepping up purchases of U.S. weapons with a deal for eight armed reconnaissance helicopters, another sign of warming ties after the end of direct military rule in the Southeast Asian nation. – Bloomberg

Husain Haqqani writes: It would be detrimental to India’s global standing if, in an effort to match Pakistan’s rhetoric, its leaders reverse the country’s global standing as an important pillar of world order. Indian diplomats have, for years, worked hard to de-hyphenate their country from Pakistan. If the current trend towards Indian revisionism reinstates the hyphen, and everyone around the world starts talking again of India-Pakistan, Islamabad would win the battle without even trying. – The Print


The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a long-term contract on 19 September with Izhevsk Electromechanical Plant Kupol, a subsidiary of the Almaz-Antey concern, for the acquisition of Tor-M2 (9K332) and Tor-M2DT (9K331MDT) short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. – Jane’s 360

Russia has improved the targeting system of its ship- and submarine-launched 3M14 Kalibr cruise missiles to improve their ability to conduct time sensitive attacks. – Jane’s 360

A group of Russian military specialists has arrived in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro meets with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to improve cooperation. – Reuters

The Kremlin said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro did not discuss new loans for Caracas at talks in Moscow, but that they had touched on military technical cooperation. – Reuters


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned defiantly to a reconvened Parliament Wednesday following a momentous court decision that he had suspended it illegally, urging opposition parties to pass a no-confidence motion in his own government and spur an election. – Wall Street Journal

The Interior Administration of the German capital Berlin took last-minute action against a pro-Palestinian rally on Wednesday by banning the appearance of two antisemitic rappers at the event. – Algemeiner 

Johnson says he is determined to ensure the U.K. leaves the European Union on time on Oct. 31, whatever the cost, and without a deal if necessary. That idea horrifies most members of Parliament — and they are weighing up their options to make sure it can’t happen. – Bloomberg

The United States will move 500 troops to Lithuania in October for a six-month deployment, returning to the Baltic region where it first sent soldiers after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. – Reuters


West African and international powers are failing to tackle the spiraling threat of Islamist militancy in the Sahel region, which is spreading towards the Gulf of Guinea, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday. – Reuters

International aid agency Mercy Corps on Wednesday suspended its operations in two northeastern Nigerian states worst hit by Islamist insurgents after the army closed four of its offices in the region, the organization said. – Reuters

Islamic State said via its Amaq news agency that it killed 14 Nigerian soldiers in the northeast state of Borno in attacks on Wednesday. – Reuters

The Americas

A U.S. citizen sued two airline companies in a U.S. federal court under a newly revived provision that permits legal action by U.S. citizens or entities against companies doing business on property that was confiscated by the Cuban government. The suit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is the latest to come after the Trump administration lifted a suspension of a provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act in May. – Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump showed his support for the Venezuelan opposition Wednesday as he met with its delegation to the U.N. General Assembly instead of the official government delegation and called for an end to the “horrible and brutal oppression” of President Nicolas Maduro. – Associated Press

Colombia will give the United Nations a dossier of “conclusive proof” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s support for terrorist groups, President Ivan Duque said in his speech to the organization’s General Assembly on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Wednesday barring senior members of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and their families from entering the United States, part of his push to oust Maduro. – Reuters

Venezuela, a country riddled with human rights abuses that has forced the migration of millions of people, is reportedly set to join a host of other countries with similarly poor human rights records on the controversial U.N. Human Rights Council. – Fox News

The US Department of Homeland Security has officially labeled white supremacy as a major threat to national security, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on Friday. – Jerusalem Post


The Navy announced on Tuesday that its F-18 fighter plane fleet is 80% mission capable, meeting a goal mandated by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis last year. – Washington Examiner

Defects found in a $5 electrical component will delay the Navy and Air Force nuclear warhead refurbishment program by 18 months and cost more than $1 billion to fix, a National Nuclear Security Administration official said during a congressional hearing Wednesday. – USNI News

U.S. 2nd Fleet flexed its Arctic operational muscle this week by opening a temporary expeditionary Maritime Operations Center in Keflavik, Iceland as a Surface Action Group enters the North Atlantic. – USNI News

The Trump administration has ramped up its focus on space as a war fighting domain with the establishment of the Space Development Agency, the reestablishment of US Space Command and the imminent establishment of a Space Force. While those actions have ignited conversations in the military space community over what new assets the Pentagon needs on orbit and who exactly should be in charge of building and managing them, Booz Allen prefers to look to the ground. – C4ISRNET

The Senate on Wednesday again passed a bid to end the southern border emergency President Donald Trump’s declared to divert military construction funding to the border wall ― but not by a veto-proof majority. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force has given its new combat rescue helicopter the green light to go into production, its manufacturer Lockheed Martin Sikorsky said Tuesday. – Defense News

Long War

The arrest of a US soldier with far-right sympathies who is suspected of plotting an attack on American soil to spark “chaos” has highlighted a challenge for the Pentagon: purging its ranks of extremists. – Agence France-Presse

Malaysia has arrested 15 people, mostly foreigners from neighboring Indonesia, on suspicion of having links with the Islamic State militant group, police said on Thursday. – Reuters

An indictment filed in the Southern District of New York last week against a New Jersey man on terror-related charges revealed strong evidence of organized Hezbollah activity in the United States. – Washington Examiner

Trump Administration

President Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and said he would direct his personal lawyer and Attorney General William Barr to contact Mr. Zelensky to help him in a possible investigation, according to a document released Wednesday by the White House. – Wall Street Journal

President Trump struck a stance of defiance Wednesday, proclaiming his innocence and leveling distortions and falsehoods after the publicly released notes of his phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart turbocharged the push on Capitol Hill for his impeachment. – Washington Post 

President Trump and his aides are privately worried that impeachment investigations will stifle administration work, such as efforts to procure a North American trade deal, even as they publicly gird for a fight, according to multiple insiders. But operatives on his reelection campaign see an opportunity to mobilize the base, setting up a divide between them and White House aides trying to head off damage. – Washington Examiner 

Senate Democrats called on the Defense Department to investigate delays in military aid to Ukraine amid allegations that President Trump attempted to make the aid conditional on an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. – The Hill

Zelenskiy’s comments to the Republican Trump, disclosed in the summary, will likely irk U.S. Democrats, risking the bipartisan U.S. support Kiev requires while irritating France and Germany whom Zelenskiy criticized in the same exchange. – Reuters

Wednesday’s memo offered insights into how Trump interacts with foreign leaders, how he urges them to act through implication rather than explicit demands and how he can sometimes hold grudges. Here are five takeaways from the document. – The Hill